In the greater Sacramento area, which is close to so much wine country and a swelling interest in artisanal foods, it’s somewhat surprising that more cheese isn’t produced locally.
Winters Cheese Co. was founded in 2010 by Dan Turkovich while he was a student at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and used the college’s creamery to develop recipes and produce a line of cheeses.
Some of those initial cheeses were aged at Preserve Public House, a downtown Winters eatery that highlights local ingredients.
The company’s current cheesemaker, Sacha Laurin, uses a creamery in Petaluma to produce a Portuguese-style cheese that is crafted from a blend of goat and cow milk. The bulk of its cheese line is still produced at Cal Poly.
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Winters Cheese Co. and Turkovich Family Wines share a tasting room which includes free samples of its products. Cheeses from other producers are also available.
Edmund Lis, operations manager for Winters Cheese Co., said operating a creamery can be especially cost prohibitive, hence the lack of cheese being produced directly in the Sacramento Valley. Creameries require a significant investment in stainless steel tanks and face stringent regulations related to health, especially in relation to the transport of milk.
“It’s much more expensive to build a creamery vs. a winery,” Lis said. “The way my old boss used to put it, ‘You can’t kill anyone with wine but you can with cheese.’ Everything has to be stainless steel and washable.”
Lis said Winters Cheese Co. is eyeing a partnership with UC Davis to operate a creamery. The university currently runs a dairy but not a creamery, which can transform milk products into cheese, butter and other items. Access to a nearby creamery would allow Winters Cheese Co. to expand into a line of soft cheeses, such as brie, and increase its production capacity.
Winters Cheese Co.
What’s so special: Winters Cheese Co. counts as the rare business in proximity to California’s capital city that specializes in the fermented curd we know and love as cheese. The Yolo County company produces a line of hard cheeses that are available at its downtown Winters tasting room.
The local connection: Winters Cheese Co. is a sister business for Turkovich Family Wines, a Winters producer which specializes in grapes sourced from greater Yolo County.
Expectations: With plans to partner with a nearby creamery, perhaps at UC Davis or otherwise, Winters Cheese Co. plans on expanding its line of cheeses and aim for regional distribution.
Quote: “We’re keeping the brand alive so we can keep our options down the road. Our goal is to expand into our own production, whether it’s owning a creamery or (partnering with) UC Davis. But we did the math at the end of the year, and we sold a couple tons of cheese (in the tasting room). Between all those cheeses, the majority of what we sell is our own label. I thought, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize we sold that much cheese.’ ”
Edmund Lis, Winters Cheese Co. operations manager